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On the anniversary of the Iraq war in the DR Congo Bosco Ntaganda, known as the ‘terminator’, was arrested by the ICC for crimes including enlisting child soldiers, murder, rape and sexual slavery among a total of 10 war crimes charges. This also includes crimes against humanity.

While we reflect on the Iraq war however a situation exists where a major global power in America will not be tried for possible war crimes. In the aftermath of their 2004 attack on Fallujah various sources including the Independent and Global Research have reported how cancer rates have soared aswell as the occurrence of grotesque and tragic birth defects and malformations. In a study entitled Cancer, Infant Mortality and Birth Sex-Ratio in Fallujah, Iraq 2005-2009 Dr Busby of the University of Ulster found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults. Many people argue that the use of white phosphorous and, most likely, depleted uranium clearly contravenes the Geneva conventions within international law on the use of incendiary or chemical weapons. Specifically those with a lasting impact in civilian areas.

Yet while the ICC pursue war criminals in Africa it has taken legal action against their the UK ally in the war by the families of Iraqi victims themselves to seek effective justice because the United States has boycotted the ICC. This can be seen as a result of the inherent contradiction between their traditional isolationist approach to global issues in the area of international diplomacy and extensive use of indirect or direct military force. When The Guardian revealed the involvement of the Pentagon and US Colonel James Steele – a veteran of America’s essentially criminal involvement in places such as El Salvador – in Iraqi torture centres the implications of America’s self isolation from international law are particularly shocking. If the world’s most powerful nations remain silent on their own crimes then it surely renders the concept of international law and justice void.

To avoid solely focusing on the US however, we have to recognize that other nations such as China are also similarly guilty. It has most recently supplied weapons to Sudan used in the Darfur genocide. Though this can be argued to not be a war crime it is ultimately directly contributing to others. It also clearly contravened the UN’s arms embargo placed on Sudan. The ability of China to violate it points to a key problem with UN arms embargo’s. This is that many states have not even made violating an embargo a criminal offence in domestic law. This is also case of where the commercial, political or other strategic interests of any one member of the UN Security Council means a decision to impose an arms embargo on a particular regime or armed group is not tabled or agreed. In addition The Washington Post has revealed in October 2010 how China has attempted to both sabotage a UN probe into war crimes in Burma. In addition they have attempted to block a report on their own involvement in Sudan.

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From 2003 to 2006, the period covering the worst abuses by Sudanese government forces in Darfur, China sold over $55 million worth of small arms to Khartoum. Simultaneously from 1997 onwards there was a rise in oil exports to China as Sudanese military expenditure dramatically increased. The issue is also no doubt complicated by the very fact that China and USA are permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Ultimately the nations who have the most power inevitably have the greatest influence and therefore responsibility. It takes the most genuine use of that responsibility for them to face their own crimes. When a countries own ideals, at their most patriotic, often espouse an element of bravery, justice and strong will it is surely the bravest act to face their own crimes. It is the very antithesis to use this power to negatively influence, ignore or oppose international law.

As the current debate over press regulation takes places in the UK one of the elements of the Levison Report that has not got as much attention is that which focuses on the representation of muslims in UK media. Referring to concerns voiced by ENGAGE the report noted the following headlines, which appeared to have little factual basis but which may have contributed to a negative perception of Muslims in the UK: ‘Muslim Schools Ban Our Culture’‘BBC Puts Muslims Before You!’;‘Christmas is Banned: It Offends Muslims’‘Brit Kids Forced to Eat Halal School Dinners!’; ‘Muslims Tell Us How To Run Our Schools’. An earlier 2007 study entitled The British Media and Muslim Representation: The Ideology of Demonization found that only 4% of the articles studied were positive.

The effect of this is however far wider than would initially seem. By pursuing as large an audience as possible this is incidentally very similar to the aims of islamic extremists themselves who want to recruit as may followers to their cause as they can. Therefore opposing voices on both sides and the media, even if we concede they have done so unintentionally, have succeeded in leading to a situation that dissuades a broader co-operation and ultimately promotes misunderstanding. This has the effect of marginalizing moderate muslims and therefore makes the task of combatting and succeeding over its extremist elements even harder.

In this context terrorists and media politicians designate themselves as a sole symbol of a collective rightnesous and designate each other as the evil equivalent while the complex reality is that, in the context of the billions of individuals they represent they are neither. This promotes a moral superiority on both sides at the behest of moral clarity and destroys the possibility of a common and level field of dialogue among the majority. A specific example of this is a misrepresentation of terms such as jihad which are often incorporated in catchy tabloid headlines. Yet the reality is more complex. The real meaning of this phrase is to struggle or strive.

In contrast a more positive example of its use is its place as a core value for Islamic Relief. Islamic Relief describe themselves as ‘a leading international aid and development charity striving – note the word striving – to end poverty’. Their effort is reflected by the knowledge that they were one of the first aid agencies on the scene as part of the immediate emergency response following the Haiti earthquake disaster. Since then they have initiated a school reconstruction that has resulted in 2,500 children going back to school and established centres for vocational training to develop skills such as carpentry, vehicle mechanics and IT. Critically this is just one instance of a collective effort that spans 40 countries and 100 branches worldwide. It is an effort that is blind to geography, race, colour or religion. It is involved in issues and causes from fair trade, drop the debt, refugee week, HIV, aids, emergency sanitation, orphan sponsorship, reconstruction work and climate change. The first donation was 20p from a child, representing an extraordinary progress that thousand’s of bombs from either side can never achieve.

Considering it is the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War – and we have heard this morning of more bomb attacks in Baghdad – I passionately believe that it is also critical that we avoid another policy approach and a wider perception within society that encourages an uncritical and unbalanced view. Indeed as we now know the intelligence and reasoning used to justify our intervention seems as unbalanced and sensationalist as some of the headlines the tabloid press have printed. If we address this climate in effective manner however then it can only be harder for us to make as damaging mistakes again. Above all, we owe it to the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi’s killed due to the nature of our intervention that we learn from our past mistakes.

We must learn from history and turn challenges into long-term opportunities to learn and try to understand the problem. We must avoid generalisation and both media and political sound-bites designed to gain support for a cause like the aggressive and simplified language of G.W Bush or Bin Laden. This only reduces the solution to a simplified clash of civilisation’s and metaphors such as the war on terror. Such terminology can only draw comparison to the ‘war on drugs’ or ‘war on poverty’.

Ultimately civilians on both sides are placed in the middle and suffer the most as the politicians, sections of the media and islamic terrorists exchange ideological and very real violence on one another.